From the point early in this year that the Democratic Party managed once again to derail any chance of a progressive nominee, I have been told that we on the left must work to get Joe Biden elected, after which we can pull him in our ideological direction. When this has ever worked in the past is never demonstrated, but as an article of faith, it appears to satisfy the party’s current center-right base. Progressives are called the base, but we are seen as an embarrassment that have to be treated like children every four years for the good of the party’s mature members, its elected politicians.
But how realistic is it that Biden can be pulled to the left? His announcement that he would nominate Neera Tanden to head the Office of Management and Budget is a good test of what the Democrats promised progressives. The office in question is responsible for coordinating the agencies of the executive branch to comply with the president’s policy objectives and to prepare a budget to submit to Congress. As such, Tanden would have one of the most powerful roles in a Biden administration, and her work would take place mostly in the sausage factory of government, rather than in its storefronts.
Given how much influence the OMB director has in shaping an administration’s policy goals, the left has good cause for objecting to Tanden’s nomination. She has spent years on what has looked like a vendetta against Bernie Sanders. Sanders had the gall to run for president when the party had chosen Hillary Clinton as their anointed nominee, and this suggests a personal motivation, but Tanden’s opposition to key progressive goals such as Medicare for All and the number of wealthy donors who are funding the Center for American Progress, the think tank for which she serves as CEO, provide a solid financial reason for her stance to the right of center of the American political spectrum.
Tanden is not alone. The group whom Biden has put forward so far for his cabinet are by and large people he has worked with in the past, but ideologically, they are a college of establishment types who would not feel excessively out of place in any of the administrations prior to Trump’s over the last thirty years. Avril Haines, proposed as the Director of National Intelligence, opposed punishing CIA employees involved in torture during our endless wars of the twenty-first century and approved of drone strikes without worrying too much about civilians. Pete Buttigieg is to be the Secretary of Transportation, his only qualification having been driving trucks in Afghanistan and proposing decorating the streets of South Bend. And on and on.
Democrats are praising Biden for the diversity of his selections, but while he is putting checkmarks in the boxes of race, sex, and sexual orientation, his picks all have extensive experience in the revolving door between government and industry in which an approved set of figures work on behalf of each other to preserve their established privilege. Biden’s cabinet is to be filled with the type of people who would cause no disruption in coastal cocktail parties.
So how, exactly, are we to pull him to the left? His presentation to the public is as everyone’s goofy uncle, but his voting record over a long career has been one that plants him solidly on the right of center of our political spectrum. And in case anyone imagines that he has changed as a result of at last winning the presidency, look at his words to black civil rights leaders, words that, as Krystal Ball of Rising points out, make it clear that his attitude is much like Trump’s, an attitude that he is the one person who through his personal nature can be the savior — if only the little people will get in line and stop challenging the Dear Leader, an attitude that he let slip in front of the cameras on the campaign trail. Biden’s skin is thin, and his temper is on a short fuse. And the idea that someone with such an inflated view of himself can be persuaded to move in the direction of the left, the New Deal base of the pre-Third Way Democratic Party, would be risible if so much were not at stake. He views the left as his dangerous rivals, while seeing the Republicans and the Democratic establishment as his natural allies.
The crises are clear. Large percentages of Americans work wretched jobs for nowhere near a sufficient compensation for the value they create, much less for a good life, while being denied healthcare on a planet that is increasingly too hot, too polluted, and too exploited to sustain human civilization. Nothing in what I just wrote is new. The question is what are we ever going to do about them.
The solutions are clear: Medicare and higher education for all, the Green New Deal, police reform, and universal basic income. We cannot get to those through the Democratic Party. Biden and his supporters have no intention of moving to the left. Doing so would represent a betrayal of the wealthy donors for whom they work. We on the left need to focus on these goals without getting bogged down in other matters. Once we solve the major problems that the above policies are meant to address, we can debate remaining concerns. But for the moment, we cannot afford to be distracted. Since we are going to have to build a new party, we do not have time for anything that dilutes the movement.
The resistance is over. It is now time for revolution.